The best music download sites

Music stores

Can music buyers do better than iTunes? Stuart Andrews tests ten leading music sites

After years of the music industry sticking its fingers in its ears and pretending the internet revolution wasn’t happening, the internet is suddenly awash with online music stores.

Yet something strange is happening: where there should be widespread competition, one retailer – Apple’s iTunes Music Store – accounts for more than two-thirds of global music downloads, despite the fact that it isn’t necessarily the cheapest or the best.

Apple’s iTunes Music Store accounts for more than two-thirds of global music downloads, despite the fact that it isn’t necessarily the cheapest or the best

True, some of this is due to the success of the iPod and iPhone, and their close ties to iTunes. Not to mention a multimillion-pound advertising budget. All the same, not everyone uses an Apple player, and more and more people are listening to music on a PC, smartphone or rival MP3 player.

It makes you wonder: do people realise there are better alternatives offering the same music for less? Or that there are superb websites, such as TuneChecker, which reveal the sites selling downloads (and CDs) for the cheapest prices?

In this feature, we’ve performed comprehensive tests of ten of the UK’s leading online music stores. You can see exactly which stores offer the best value for money, as we compare the prices and availability of more than 80 albums – both new and old – from across the different stores.

We’ve also performed detailed tests on the ten stores to reveal the sound quality of the tracks, whether you have to download any extra software when buying your music and any additional features offered by the stores, such as streaming music or sharing playlists. See our reviews below for all the necessary details.

What if our reviews tempt you to consider an alternative to the iTunes Music Store? Even if you have an iPod or iPhone, there’s no need to remain wedded to Apple's store. Apple’s devices are perfectly happy playing DRM-free MP3 files.

iTunes (the software this time, not the store) will add them to the music library if they’re placed in the Music folder, and many stores now provide download manager applications that will add new tracks to iTunes automatically as they download.

What’s more, MP3 files are inherently more flexible and portable than Apple’s favoured AAC. They play and will stream from and to a wider range of devices, and will work with any media player application on the market.

Still, we’re not here to demonise iTunes, but to take a good honest look at the alternatives and – ultimately – save you money on your music. It’s a tough, competitive market, and there are some cut-price bargains to be had, so fire up the browser and prepare to save cash.

Music store reviews

7digital
Amazon
Apple iTunes
HMV Digital
MSN Music
Play.com
Sky Songs
Spotify
Tesco Entertainment
we7

Click here to compare the prices of the top 10 online music stores

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